The employees at the Glenwood Avenue Starbucks greeted Malcolm Cobb by name. It was just past six-thirty in the morning and their cheery demeanors always amazed the man. He had finished his morning run ahead of schedule and was one of the first in line to get his coffee to kick off his day.
“Will you be having your usual today?” a young woman named Allison questioned.
Malcolm nodded. “I will, Allie.”
The girl gave him a bright smile. “One venti caramel macchiato, skim milk and extra caramel coming right up!”
Malcolm nodded. “Thank you.”
“We had a great time at your nightclub this past Saturday,” another Starbucks employee chimed as he blended coffee and cream into an oversize container. “I took my girl and her sister. They're still talking about it!”
“I appreciate that,” Malcolm said as he moved from the order lane to the pickup counter. While he waited he made conversation with the staff and the man in line behind him. The morning chatter was casual and easy as they caught up on their weekend escapades and mused over the news headlines.
Malcolm looked across the room as the bell chimed over the entrance door, announcing a customer's arrival. His eyes widened as he caught sight of the woman coming through the door. He knew beyond any doubt that the stunning beauty was a woman who garnered a lot of attention when she came into a room because she definitely had his.
She had an air of sophistication and glamour that few other women he knew possessed. She was dressed in a form-fitting pencil skirt and top that showcased her curves and four-inch pumps, and she carried a high-end leather bag across her arm. Her hair was thick and healthy, a precision cut bob stopping just at her shoulders. Her makeup was meticulous and flattering to her walnut brown complexion. She actually took his breath away, and it was only when the Starbucks employee called for his attention that he realized he was staring.
“Mr. Cobb, is there anything else we can get for you?”
Malcolm's head snapped as he pulled his attention back to the young employee looking at him, a bright smile across her face. He nodded. “Yes, there is something you can do,” he said as he leaned over the counter, his voice dropping to a whisper. “Charge my credit card for that woman's order. Whatever she wants.”
Allison looked toward the end of the line. “The woman in the blue print dress?” she asked.
Malcolm nodded. “Yes.”
The girl smiled. “Not a problem, sir.”
Moving out of the line Malcolm took his macchiato and a cinnamon Danish to a corner table. Settling down in his seat he watched as the woman placed her order. As she reached into her handbag for her wallet, Allison pointed in his direction. He smiled and waved a slight hand.
Cilla Jameson had noticed him when she'd entered, the handsome stranger catching the eye of a few women in the room. She'd barely given him a second glance though as her mind had been elsewhere, too many thoughts racing through her head. Foremost was whether or not she had paid her credit card bill and if her card would be accepted when they swiped it to pay for her morning coffee. She was desperate for a good cup of coffee. His generosity was a welcome blessing.
She studied him curiously. She recognized him from somewhere but was having a hard time remembering where. It wasn't often that she couldn't remember a handsome face when she saw one and the man was definitely handsome. He was tall and dark, his beautiful complexion smooth and clear like chocolate ice. He had a slim build but he was fit and from his running shoes, shorts, and sweat-stained shirt she reasoned he'd either just left the gym or had finished a long run. His hair was jet-black and cropped low and close to his head, the cut and meticulously lined edges flattering to his face. There was an abundance of attitude shimmering in his dark eyes and a bad-boy aura that surrounded him. If a stranger picked up the tab for her morning meal she was thankful he was a good-looking stranger.
Picking up her order, she crossed over to where he sat, a bright smile across her face. “Thank you. That was very kind of you,” she said, nodding her head in appreciation.
Malcolm smiled back as he gestured to the empty seat on the other side of the table. “Do you have a minute to join me?”
Cilla hesitated for a brief second before she said, “I think I do have a minute.” She placed her beverage against the tabletop. She was only slightly surprised when he stood up and moved behind her, pulling out her chair. She tossed him a quick look over her shoulder. “Thank you.”
He nodded as he sat back down. “My name's Malcolm. Malcolm Cobb.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you, Malcolm. I'm Priscilla Jameson but everyone calls me Cilla.”
“Cilla . . . that's a beautiful name. So, do you have a husband or a maybe a boyfriend I need to be concerned about, Cilla Jameson?”
She laughed. “Aren't you a little presumptuous?”
“Why would you say that?”
“We're just meeting. Why would you need to be concerned about any personal relationship of mine?”
His eyes danced over her face, amusement shimmering in his eyes. He shifted forward in his seat. “Because if you do have a husband, then I would have to recuse myself from pursuing you any further. If you just have a boyfriend . . . well . . . all would be fair in love and war.”
She laughed heartily, her head bobbing slightly. “Interesting.” There was a momentary pause as they eyed each other intently. She shook her head. “No. I'm not married and I don't have a boyfriend. You?”
Malcolm grinned broadly. “I'm very single.”
She smiled. “I keep thinking that I know you from someplace but I can't figure out from where.”
“Did you go to school here in Raleigh?”
She shook her head. “I was born and raised in Charlotte. But I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill.”
“I went to school here. I did my undergrad at Shaw University and my graduate work at NC State. I studied industrial design and engineering.”
“I majored in prelaw but I'm working in pharmaceuticals at the moment.”
Malcolm smiled. “I'm not sure how to take that,” he said, the hint of laughter in his tone.
“I don't deal drugs if that's what you're implying,” Cilla said with a slight roll of her eyes. “I'm a healthcare administrator for a biotech company in Research Park.”
“Well, I own a nightclub downtown.”
Cilla snapped her fingers. “That's where I know you from. You and your business partner were featured in the
News and Observer
Malcolm smiled. Since its grand opening, the nightclub had been featured in the local newspaper a number of times. Most recently, word of their success had reached a national level, The Playground being named a must-stop on things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Co-owned with Romeo Marshall, his best friend and fraternity brother, their nightspot was now the place to be, and both of them, the men to know. The success of The Playground had propelled them right into the spotlight. “It wasn't a good picture,” he said. “They didn't get my best side.”
Cilla laughed. “So which is your best side?”
“The one they didn't show.”
There was a moment of pause as the two sat grinning foolishly at each other.
“So, your club is a jazz and blues bar, right?” Cilla questioned.
“It is, with a hint of R&B and soul.” He reached into his pocket for his wallet and pulled a business card from inside. “If you have some time maybe you can stop by,” he said as he passed it to her.
She studied it momentarily. “The Playground . . . sounds like it would be a good time.”
“It will be,” he said, his tone smug. “I'll be there.”
She smiled. “You don't know when I'm coming.”
He shrugged. “I'm always there so you can't miss me.”
Cilla took a quick glance down to her wristwatch. She took one last sip of her morning brew. “Thank you again for the coffee. I really appreciate it.”
He stood up with her. “I'm here every morning, same time,” he said. “In case you're interested in another cup. And I really do hope you'll be interested in having another cup of coffee with me.”
Cilla laughed, the soft lilt of it stirring a wave of heat through Malcolm's spirit. “Always here, always at the club, doesn't sound like you have any time for much else,” she said.
Malcolm's mouth pulled into a seductive grin. “I would make time for you, Cilla Jameson.”
“I said now!” Claudette Cobb shouted, her deep alto voice vibrating through the home. “And I mean it!” the matriarch concluded.
Malcolm Cobb laughed as he moved from his downstairs office into the home's foyer. He leaned to kiss his mother's cheek.
“Where have you been?” she exclaimed, pressing a hand to her chest. “You scared me!”
“Sorry about that but I snuck in through the back door. I went for a run and then grabbed a cup of coffee from Starbucks. I thought I'd get some paper work done before I lie down for a nap.”
“I don't know why you waste good money when we have that coffeepot sitting right there in that kitchen.”
“I like Starbucks. It helps to clear my head after a long night.”
“Humph!” his mother grunted, her expression strained.
“But good morning to you!” Malcolm exclaimed, changing the subject.
“It was a good morning until them girls decided to work my one good nerve,” she said, her smile brightening her face.
Malcolm chucked warmly. “Math test today. Neither one wants to go to school.”
Claudette shook her head. “I don't know why. They both always do well. They whine that they're going to fail and then they always pass with flying colors.”
Her son shrugged his broad shoulders. “I don't know what to tell you.” He leaned against the banister and called upward. “Cleo! Claudia! If you're late for school, you will both be grounded for the weekend and I mean what I say. Get a move on it.”
Seconds later his thirteen-year-old twin daughters both shuffled across the hardwood floors and down the stairs. Malcolm eyed one and then the other. Identical, the two girls were making it their mission to express their individuality in their attire. Claudia, the eldest, was going for a
Little House on the Prairie
look with a ruffled maxi skirt, a blouse buttoned up to her neck, and low-heeled boots. Cleo, the younger of the twins by minutes, was hoping for more of a video vixen look.
He shook his head and pointed skyward.
“Change, Cleo. Now!” he snapped, his brusque tone voicing his displeasure.
“What's wrong with what I'm wearing?” the girl snapped back, defiance billowing across her face.
“You don't have on any clothes,” her grandmother quipped.
Malcolm moved quickly in the child's direction, her eyes widening as her father took the first four steps in one swift leap. He stood eye to eye with her, everything about his expression declaring there would be no discussion.
“I'm changing!” the girl muttered as she turned abruptly and raced back to her room.
Her sister stood laughing. Malcolm shifted his gaze, eyeing her with a narrowed stare. “Your lunch is on the counter. Grab a Pop-Tart or a banana for breakfast and get your tail to the bus stop.”
“Yes, sir,” Claudia responded, moving quickly toward the kitchen.
Minutes later Cleo returned, her skirt more modest and her blouse appropriate. She eased her way cautiously past her father, not bothering to comment as he repeated the same instructions to her. As the two girls headed out the front door he kissed both their cheeks and slipped a five-dollar bill into each child's pocket.
“Bye, Daddy,” Claudia said as she kissed him back.
“Love you, Daddy,” Cleo whispered.
He nodded. “I love you, too, baby girl. And you and I will talk when you get home this afternoon.”
“We're going to Mommy's this afternoon,” the girl responded, reminding him of their weekday visitation with his ex-wife.
“Then we'll talk when you get back,” he said.
“Do we have to go with Mommy?” Cleo questioned. She met the look her father was giving her.
Interrupting, their grandmother pushed her way between them. “You're going to be late and if you miss the bus I'm going to have to take you to school. Let's go and I'll pick you up when school gets out so we can meet your mother on time. You know how she gets if you're late.”
Malcolm watched as the girls hurried to the corner, their grandmother standing at the end of the driveway to see them get on the bus. Both had thrown him one last look and he wished he could have told them no, that they didn't have to visit with their mother if they didn't want to. But that wasn't an option for either of them, his divorce ruling dictating their mother's visitation rights. One weekend per month, one month each summer, and every other Monday the girls had to spend time with their other parent whether any of them liked it or not. And none of them liked it.